The Baltimore County Council voted last night to allow a group of retirees to collect both pensions and paychecks from the county, exempting them from a law that bars "double-dipping" by county employees.
The council's unanimous vote allows nine retirees, most of them former police officers or firefighters, to work as school bus drivers while they collect pension checks.
Council Chairman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, said he voted for the bill because the retirees apparently were not told that taking the jobs violated the county code, and because granting the exemption would not affect the retirement system's finances.
But he added, "We don't want this to be a precedent to allow future exceptions."
Council members approved the exemption, in part, because the county Board of Education has trouble finding bus drivers. The academic year started with more than 50 vacancies.
County law prohibits retired county employees who receive pensions from being rehired -- a practice commonly called double-dipping.
The county's budget chief said allowing double-dipping could encourage workers to retire at an earlier age, which would place a strain on the taxpayer-supported retirement system for public employees.
In May, the county budget office sent a letter to the nine employees, telling them to choose between their pensions, which average about $26,600 a year, and their county jobs, which pay salaries of about $18,700.
The bus drivers convinced county elected officials that they were unaware they were breaking the law. Four of the seven council members co-sponsored a bill that created an exemption that applies only to the nine bus drivers.
Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, said allowing the retirees to keep their jobs as bus drivers would save the retirement system money. He explained that if others took those jobs, they would accrue benefits that would eventually be paid from the fund.